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Macedonia. Life is difficult for the Free Press

Threats, layoffs, arrests, and a suspicious death: for the Macedonian journalists freedom of expression is increasingly stifled by government control

One story tells what are the problems of freedom of expression in Macedonia, a small Balkan state to the north of Greece that dreams of joining the European Union, but in which in recent years the freedom of the press has been the victim of growing attacks.

The situation is the one described by Reporters Without Borders: in 2014, Macedonia came in last among Balkan countries (123rd out of a total of 180 states in the world).

The story is that of Filip (not his real name), a tall, robust young man who confesses to have been afraid when, one evening, as he returned home, he found a stranger in the living room who told him: “It’s better if you change some things on your website, or someone in the street could stab a knife into your stomach”.

The thug went away without introducing himself, but Filip has no doubts on who he was. “He was a politicians’s thug. On my information website – he explains – I’ve never written anything particularly hot, but I allowed readers to comment on the news. This is not liked. What bothered them was the fact that readers could write sentences like: your monuments are ugly and serve no purpose, use  the public money them to give us work”. The unemployment rate in Macedonia is about 30%.

After the threats, Filip decided not to host reader comments on his website anymore. But this was not enough to reassure his enemies. Little by little advertising, which was already low, declined further. And so, in order to survive, Filip has agreed to publish news sponsored by local politics, that is, from the center-right party (VMRO – DPMNE) that with Mr Nikola Gruevski also governs the country.

PROBLEMS IN THE COUNTRY – In Macedonia the problems that restrict the freedom of the press are obvious: government control over the media and advertising, the partisanship of public networks, the poor working conditions of journalists and direct attacks on them by parliamentarians (including prime Minister Gruevski). Result: the press is censored or, so as to survive, self-censored.

The recent cases of Mr Zoran Dimitrovski, former editor of the newspaper Nova Makedonija and ousted from office, and of Mr Vlado Apostolov, a journalist of the weekly Fokus and convicted of defamation, are just the latest of a series of episodes that go well beyond the threats and layoffs.

PRECEDENTS – The most striking fact is the death of Mr Nikola Mladenov, the founder of Fokus who did not spare criticism against the government and who died in a car accident last year. Obscure circumstances of the story lead many to believe that is was no accident.

And again in 2013, Mr Tomislav Kezarovski was imprisoned (now under house arrest) for revealing the name of a witness under protected in an investigation of five years earlier, in which he also wrote of police corruption.

On top of these cases occurred to individual journalists, over the past three years dozens of periodicals, radio and television broadcasters have had to close because of theis mostly critical stance of the government.

The Macedonian Parliament has recently passed a press law that the OECD representative on Media Freedom Ms Dunja Mijatovic, on a visit to Skopje on February 12th, welcomed, but pointed out that now the law should be put into practice.

As soon as the next day, Ms Mijatović defined on Twitter the dismissal of the director of Nova Makedonija as “worrying”.

DF

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